Saturday, December 14, 2013

2004 Volkswagen Jetta TDi Sedan

The Really Important Stuff
Engine 1.9 L I4 Diesel
Transmission 5-Speed Manual
Power 100 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque 177 ft-lbs @ 1800 rpm
Fuel Economy City/Highway 32/42
Curb Weight 3003 lbs
Base Price When New $20,480
Market Value (Excellent Condition, 100K miles) $6,756

My friend Laurie recently lent me her 2004 biodiesel-powered Jetta for the afternoon.  This was the first diesel vehicle I had ever driven, but I had an idea of what to expect—lots of low end torque, a narrow power band, and a loud rumbling engine.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Volkswagen has done a good job of tuning the engine to keep it more user-friendly for drivers used to gasoline engines.  The small turbocharger helps spread out the power band without introducing any lag, and the engine is reasonably quiet and consistent in volume throughout the rev range.

I thoroughly enjoyed driving this car.  The steering is sharp and the body stays completely level in sharp turns, likely due to the low center of gravity and tight suspension.  The engine’s overall power (100 hp, 177 lb-ft of torque) isn't overwhelming, but the 5-speed manual transmission and wide power band make it easy to accelerate quickly when needed.

Exterior styling is one of the Jetta’s low points.  The design is an evolution of the “folded paper” look of the original 1979 model.  Volkswagen seems to think that slightly rounding the creases is an acceptable way to modernize the Jetta.  Unfortunately, it still just looks like a boring metal box.  The interior is a stark contrast to the exterior.  Soft black plastic with silver accents covers most surfaces.  The smooth curves of the dashboard and center console are the best evidence that this car was actually designed in the 21st century.  It only gets better when the headlights are switched on, as everything is bathed in an orange glow.

The best part of owning a diesel vehicle is the fuel economy.  You really can’t go wrong with the Jetta’s EPA ratings of 32/42 mpg, which put it on a par with much smaller and weaker gasoline-powered cars.  After 3 hours of city driving, the fuel gauge needle had barely moved a millimeter.

For Laurie, the ability to run the Jetta on biodiesel is the major selling point of the car.  She doesn't like to support middle-eastern countries that harbor terrorists by buying their exported oil.  “I don’t want to give my money to the terrorists”, she says.  That may be the best reason to buy a diesel car today.

I think the Jetta can also appeal to those who just want a reliable car that will save them money at the pump, but the purchase price could be a problem.  In the US, Volkswagen has always sold the Jetta TDi at a much higher price point than the gasoline model, and used examples have held their value well due to the high quality.  Perhaps once diesels begin to catch on in this country prices will become more reasonable.

  • Well-tuned engine makes the transition from gasoline easier
  • Great handling
  • Fuel economy puts subcompacts to shame
  • Modern interior
  • Bland exterior styling
  • Pricey

The Bottom Line:  Independence from foreign oil and zero emissions make it a great choice for a socially conscious driver.

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